Updated July 1, 2021

What is COVID-19? How do you recognize it? And what do you do if you think you have it? Use this section to learn how to recognize COVID-19, what do if you think your are sick and how to care for yourself and others. If you would like to be tested or if you need specific medical advice, contact your healthcare provider. If you do not have a healthcare provider, see a list of clinic and pharmacy locations offering testing on the Spokane County Testing Locations page. If you are concerned that you have COVID-19, visit the Exposure and Diagnosis page.

Understanding Coronaviruses, SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19

COVID-19 is the disease caused by the 2019 novel (new) coronavirus. COVID-19 is short for Coronavirus Disease 2019. The scientific name for the virus is SARS-CoV-2. SARS-CoV-2 is a betacoronavirus, like MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV.

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses most often associated with the common cold in humans. Coronaviruses are commonly found in many animal species, including cattle, cats and bats. Animal coronaviruses can sometimes infect people and then change, allowing them to spread from person to person, which occurred in the case of the SARS virus in 2002-2003 and with the MERS virus in 2012.

See the tabs above for information about symptoms and risk and to view frequently asked questions.

COVID-19 and Variants

Variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been a frequent topic in the news lately, but what are they?

As viruses spread from person to person, they mutate. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is no different. Most mutations are considered inconsequential as these don’t change the behavior of the virus. A group of coronaviruses that have the same mutations are what we refer to as variants. Variants are not that different from the “original” and they don’t affect us differently. Most mutations result in small, unimportant differences. SARS-CoV-2 does not mutate remarkably quickly. In fact, influenza (flu) viruses mutate twice as fast as SARS-CoV-2.

Types of Variants

In some cases, variants mutate enough that they are biologically different from the original and can affect our health more than previous variants or are less responsive to treatment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) categorizes variants according to three classes. These are variants of interest, variants of concern and variants of high consequence.

Variants of Interest (VOI)

Variants of interest have genetic markers that are expected to affect how they spread, are diagnosed and respond to treatment. They may also affect immune escape—which means that a person’s immune system may not recognize and respond to the virus. Variants of interest are linked to increased numbers of cases or unique outbreaks but are generally limited in their spread in the United States or other countries.

Variants of Concern (VOC)

The CDC defines a variant of concern as a variant that has one or more of the following attributes in addition to the possible attributes of a variant of interest:

  • Evidence that they affect diagnostics, treatments and vaccines. For example, they may
    • Cause widespread interference with diagnostic testing
    • Demonstrate increased resistance to treatments in those who are infected
    • Not respond to the antibodies in the body of a person who has been vaccinated or previously infected
    • Be more likely to cause severe illness in vaccinated people
  • Evidence that they spread more easily
  • Evidence that they cause more severe disease

Variants of High Consequence (VOHC)

CDC defines variants of high consequence according to the following attributes:

  • May affect medical countermeasures including the following:
    • Diagnostic tools and tests
    • Vaccine effectiveness, causing a disproportionately high number of vaccine breakthrough cases or less protection from severe disease
    • Less affected by or responsive to therapeutic treatment
  • More severe clinical disease and increased hospitalization

None of the SARS-CoV-2 variants are categorized as variants of high consequence at this time.


CDC is currently monitoring several variants of concern worldwide. Similarly, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) is monitoring variants that have been detected in Washington state and publishes a weekly report. Cases involving several different variants have been identified in Spokane County. See the most recent variant report from DOH for more information.

What Does This Mean for You?

Due to federal regulations, you will not be notified if you test positive for a SARS-CoV-2 variant. Even if you were, you would still follow the same guidance for patient care.

As more variants are detected in our region, it’s important to continue following prevention measures if you're unvaccinated:

  • Wear a well-fitting mask when within six feet anyone from outside of your household.
  • Keep gatherings small and outdoors.
  • Avoid indoor social gatherings—if participating, keep doors and windows open for the best possible ventilation.
  • Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer when soap and water aren’t available.
  • Avoid touching your face.
  • Stay home if you are sick or have been exposed to COVID-19.
  • Get tested if you think you’re sick or if you think you were exposed.
  • Sign up for WA Notify.
  • Get vaccinated as soon as you can. While some variants are less affected by current vaccines, getting vaccinated is the best protection from COVID-related hospitalization and death.

Learn more about COVID-19 variants

Watch this video for an in-depth look at COVID-19 variants with SRHD Interim Health Officer Dr. Francisco Velázquez.

Content adapted from materials provided by the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).